US authorities have apprehended two men in New York who are accused of running a covert Chinese “secret police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown district.
Lu Jianwang, aged 61, and Chen Jinping, aged 59, both residents of New York City, face allegations of plotting to serve as agents for China and impeding justice.
They are scheduled to appear in a federal court in Brooklyn on Monday.
China has previously refuted claims of operating such stations, referring to them as “service centres” for its citizens abroad.
Mr. Lu from the Bronx and Mr. Chen from Manhattan collaborated to create the first foreign police station in the United States on behalf of China’s Ministry of Public Security, as claimed by the US Department of Justice on Monday.
The facility was shut down in 2022’s fall, the department disclosed, after those involved became aware of an FBI inquiry into the station.
“This prosecution exposes the Chinese government’s blatant infringement on our nation’s sovereignty by establishing a secret police station in the heart of New York City,” stated Breon Pearce, the chief prosecutor in Brooklyn.
It is believed that these stations are among at least 100 operating worldwide in 53 nations, including the UK and the Netherlands. Additionally, last month, Canada’s federal police initiated an investigation into two suspected police outposts in the Montreal area.
“The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] actions significantly exceed acceptable nation-state behavior. We will determinedly protect the liberties of everyone residing in our country from the menace of authoritarian suppression,” expressed assistant attorney general Matthew Olsen, from the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Prosecutors stated that Mr. Lu had strong ties to Chinese law enforcement and was recruited to assist China with “repressive activities” in the US starting in 2015, which included targeting Chinese dissidents.
In 2018, he allegedly took part in efforts to pressure a supposed Chinese fugitive into returning to China, including constant harassment and threats towards the individual and his family, residing in both China and the US. Prosecutors also claim that he was enlisted to find a pro-democracy activist in China. Mr. Lu denied these actions when confronted by US officials.
In October 2022, Mr. Chen and Mr. Lu were interrogated by authorities when the FBI searched the alleged station. Their phones were confiscated during the search, and both men confessed to erasing communication with a representative from China’s Ministry of Public Security who was supposedly directing their actions in the US, according to the prosecutors.
If found guilty, Mr. Lu and Mr. Chen could each face up to 25 years in prison.
Chinese embassies in the US and Canada have claimed that the sites are “overseas service stations” established during the pandemic to aid citizens abroad with tasks like driver’s license renewal.
However, human rights organizations have accused China of using these outposts to intimidate and surveil Chinese nationals overseas.
Last month, Canada’s federal force urged Chinese Canadians who may have been targeted by threats from “alleged Chinese police stations” to come forward.
“We’re in the process of ensuring the RCMP is following up on this and that our intelligence systems are taking this seriously,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
FBI Director Christopher Wray declared last November that his agency was monitoring reports of such stations, labeling them a “real problem”.
“It is outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to establish operations, for example, in New York, without proper coordination,” Mr. Wray stated. “It infringes on sovereignty and bypasses standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation procedures.”
US officials revealed a separate complaint on Monday which charged 34 officers from China’s Ministry of Public Security with using fabricated social media accounts to harass Chinese dissidents in the US and to spread official Chinese government propaganda.
According to prosecutors, all the accused are part of the 912 Special Project Working Group, an exclusive task force whose objective is to “target Chinese dissidents located throughout the world, including in the United States.”
As US Attorney Peace stated, “The PRC government deploys its national police and the 912 Special Project Working Group not as an instrument to uphold the law and protect public safety, but rather as a troll farm that attacks persons in our country for exercising free speech,” as alleged.
All 34 defendants are believed to reside in China or other parts of Asia.